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Promoting diversity by making eBooks more accessible

Earlier this month Sue Smith and Vicky Dobson, who work in the Library Disability Support Team, traveled to London to attend the presentation of the 2016 CILIP CDEG Diversity Award.

They had been shortlisted for this award as part of a team from across the UK currently coordinating a national eBook Accessibility Audit. The team also includes colleagues from the University of Kent, the University of Liverpool, Manchester Metropolitan University and York St John University.

eBooks are digital versions of printed books and the Library has lots of them available. There are many advantages to eBooks. For example they are available both on and off-campus and most titles can be accessed by multiple users at the same time.

The eBook Accessibility Audit is looking at how accessible eBooks are for students with print impairments – difficulties accessing printed text, usually due to a visual or physical impairment or a Specific Learning Difficulty such as dyslexia.

eBooks have the potential to be very accessible. The flexibility offered by their electronic format means that, if they are compatible with assistive software, they can be adapted to the needs of individual students. Unfortunately, due to the design of some eBooks, this is not always the case and they are not all fully accessible. For example, in some cases the text can only be enlarged to a limited extent or it may be incompatible with screen reading software, making eBooks inaccessible to many disabled students. Accessibility also varies between different eBook platforms (interfaces used to access eBooks).

The ultimate goal of the eBook Accessibility Audit is for students with print impairments to face fewer barriers in accessing the information they need to succeed at university. The project aims to achieve this by:

  • Assessing the accessibility strengths and areas for improvement of different eBook platforms
  • Working with providers to achieve improvements in accessibility
  • Making information available on the accessibility features of different eBook platforms to help users optimise accessibility when reading them
  • Increasing awareness of the accessibility features of different eBook platforms amongst Library staff to help them support students using eBooks
  • Increasing awareness of the accessibility features of different eBook platforms amongst tutors to help them minimise barriers for disabled learners when designing resource lists

Although they didn’t win the Diversity Award, Sue and Vicky received a Highly Commended certificate on behalf of the eBook Accessibility Audit project team. They are pictured receiving the certificate, along with fellow project team member Alistair McNaught from JISC:

Whilst Sue, Vicky and other colleagues work with providers to achieve improved accessibility in the design and publishing of eBooks, there are lots of ways in which people using eBooks can customise them to make them easier to read. These include changing the text size and colour, changing the background colour, and having the text read aloud to you. Instructions on how to do this are available on the eBooks Accessibility page.

If you have any queries about using eBooks, please contact us.

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